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20 May 2023

Jonathan Sudharta Makes a Breakthrough for Indonesia’s Healthcare Industry

The 2023 Innovation and Entrepreneurship Awardee. Jonathan completed a bachelor’s degree in economics with a specialisation in e-commerce at Curtin University in 2003.

Jonathan Sudharta highly values relationships. Without the courage to bend reality to solve users’ pain points as well as collaboration across sectors, Halodoc’s innovation might have been nothing more than a concept. But today, the digital health service app, Halodoc, is giving over 20 million Indonesians seamless access to healthcare services, from online consultations to getting the right medicine recommendations and other treatments without leaving home.

Jonathan's introduction to the world of digital business came when he made the decision, despite having little knowledge, to major in Marketing and E-Commerce at Curtin University in 2000. Reflecting on that time, he shared, “It was a case of ‘ignorance is bliss’ because I was unaware about what actually the subject is; I stumbled upon something that is apparently very helpful nowadays.”

Elaborating further, he explained, “In 2000, the digital business bubble burst. Everything about e-commerce went south. But when I was looking for a subject that would be relevant to me, the counsellor agreed that the subject of Marketing and E-Commerce was suitable. Once again, I was just being ignorant, but it was helpful. If I didn’t take the subject, I wouldn’t know about coding, SEO, digital marketing, or how to use software web design.”

He was also active in university organisations. With other Indonesian students in Perth, he created community activities, from sports to arts. They produced events such as a fundraising concert, namely Care with Music for the Tsunami in Aceh in 2004 and music events involving Chrisye and Dewa 19. The group of students also founded a newspaper, a radio station named Gema Kriya, and a production company called SUB Production, which released a movie, Pelangi di Atas Prahara (Rainbow Above the Tempest).

Jonathan emphasised that everything he pursued with passion was like connecting the dots, ultimately proving useful for his future self. "I gained political knowledge from this activity because I needed to connect through various networks and interact with a lot of individuals. I also acquired skills in product development and how to commercialise it. In the morning, I studied in class. In the evening, I learned from the group. I found it to be really useful," Jonathan explained.

After he graduated, he carried all of this knowledge and experience back to Indonesia. He continued working as a medical sales representative in the healthcare industry, specifically Mensa Group. Despite it being a family company, Jonathan emphasised, "I believe that a business should be operated professionally, rather than resembling a monarchy. My dad always made it clear that if I lacked competence, someone else should assume the leadership position. Therefore, I had to start from the bottom and did not have any privileges."

Expanding his network

During his time at Mensa Group, he became part of the sales team and underwent 40 days of basic training. He also used an alternative name to hide his identity and never mentioned that he was a Curtin University graduate.

"Only some of the trainers knew,” he said. “They made a bet with me about how long I could stay. It encouraged me to prove that I was capable. I took the classes from 8 am to 8 pm to learn all about medicine and pharmacy stuff. Then, I woke up at 3 am to take a kind of exam involving the material that had been provided during class.”

"I graduated as the number one student. It changed my life and propelled my career. I went through every step, from supervisor, manager, business development manager, to senior leader," Jonathan added.

His 13-year tenure at Mensa Group proved to be an eye-opening experience for Jonathan, as he witnessed the pain points faced by patients. In his work for the company, he often had to wait until 2 am to meet the doctors he was selling medicine to. While waiting, he would chat with patients and offer to pass on their inquiries to the doctors so they didn’t have to wait.

"I guess you could say that I was sort of connecting the patient's words to the doctor and vice versa. That's how I got the doctors’ attention and promoted my products," said Jonathan.

He started thinking about how people could more easily see a doctor without waiting such a long time. This experience spurred him to contemplate developing a technology-driven solution to address this problem. He came up with the idea for Halodoc and turned to the networks he had established at university and the workplace. One of the investors, Andre Soelistyo, Chief Executive Officer of GoTo Group, is a fellow Australian graduate whom Jonathan met on Australia Day.

In 2016, the Halodoc app launched with 4,000 doctors connected from Jonathan’s time as a medical sales representative. He also got support from the Indonesian Ministry of Health. "I remarked at the time that technology may help the community gain less complicated access to healthcare,” Jonathan said. “The Ministry agreed technology would be effective, but they were unsure exactly how."

Unfortunately, things didn't go well at first. Halodoc users rated the app one star. "Users complained that doctors took too long to answer. Doctors protested when there was no patient. I did not realise the healthcare industry has a different perspective," Jonathan explained.

In 2017, he went through 200 iterations in six months before discovering the right formula. "People say it is challenging to convince the investors. Assuring the whole ecosystem was the hardest part for me. But the regulator (the Ministry of Health) had faith in me, so I had to muster the courage to make it work. More iterations made me grasp that I needed to comprehend the real issues rather than just concentrating on solutions," Jonathan said.

Jonathan decided to cut the number of doctors on Halodoc from 4,000 to just five. The service became fast and simple. It became a solution to the original problem and earned a four-star rating from users. In 2019, thousands more people signed up for Halodoc, and the number of doctors also grew.

Halodoc helps in the pandemic

When everyone was forced to stay at home due to COVID-19, telemedicine became the most practical option for medical consultation and purchasing medication. Even willing to collaborate, the government worked with Halodoc for the ISOMAN program.

Today, over 20 million Indonesians use the Halodoc app. Halodoc’s mission of easier access to healthcare services is becoming a reality. Based on the Ministry of Health data in 2019, Indonesia has the second-lowest doctor-to-patient ratio in Southeast Asia, with 0.4 doctors per 1,000 people. It means there are only four doctors for every 10,000 people in Indonesia. With Halodoc, Jonathan is alleviating this problem.

Once more, Jonathan is using technology and innovation to overcome barriers to healthcare.

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